PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a list of jailed dissidents to China on Thursday in a bid to draw attention to their plight, a day before he attends the Beijing Olympics despite criticism from rights activists.
Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, is due to represent the 27-nation bloc at the opening ceremony of the Games on Friday.
His attendance has angered rights groups and opposition politicians who accuse him of ignoring China’s rights record in favor of business and political interests.
“The president has, in the name of the European Union, just had a list of cases of individual prisoners and human rights defenders handed over to the Chinese authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told reporters.
But Sarkozy remained under fire for not pressing China harder on the issue of human rights.
He said earlier this year that he might not attend the Games because of China’s handling of violence in Tibet and said his decision would depend on progress in talks between Beijing and representatives of Tibetan Buddhism’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. He announced last month he would attend.
“He thinks he has a magic wand and that all of a sudden the Chinese will smile condescendingly and say: ‘Yes, Mr President’, and things will move forward. I don’t think so,” Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green European lawmaker, told website rue89.fr.
Cohn-Bendit, an influential figure in France, chided Sarkozy in the European Parliament last month for going to the Games and handed him names of imprisoned dissidents whose cases he wanted to have brought up, in addition to those already on an EU list.
“The list handed over to the Chinese authorities includes all the cases Mr Daniel Cohn-Bendit and various human rights organizations wish to see raised,” Nadal said.
U.S. President George W. Bush, also facing criticism of his attendance of the Games, made a speech on Thursday voicing “firm opposition” to China’s detention of dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists.
Sarkozy will not meet the Dalai Lama when he visits France this month, the French president’s office said on Wednesday.
Sarkozy aides had previously said a meeting was likely.
Any meeting between Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama would have angered Beijing which says Tibet is a purely domestic issue.
Instead, Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will meet the spiritual leader at the opening of a Bhuddist temple.
The shift has prompted further criticism of Sarkozy who pledged to make human rights a pillar of his foreign policy.
“Today Mr Sarkozy is losing on all fronts — whether human rights and France’s international image or its relations with the Chinese authorities who now know how seriously to take French demands,” newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial.
Sarkozy’s UMP party said a meeting between Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama could take place later this year. The Dalai Lama’s representative in France said he had not wanted to meet the president during his August 13-23 trip to France.
“We are working with the president’s aides to jointly plan a meeting this year but on another date,” the envoy Wangpo Bashi told France Info radio.
Editing by William Schomberg